This dish is also known as Zereshk (barberry) Polow (rice) in Farsi. Barberries are tart little berries that are used a lot in Persian cooking. Bar-none this is my absolute favorite Persian dish … ok second favorite since … there is that subject of kebobs which my hubby, grill master extraordinaire, prepares so perfectly. After making it four times in a row in less than 3 weeks I don’t think we will be seeing any kebobs featured in this blog anytime soon. Anyway back to the subject of barberry rice, I will admit that these berries are not easy to come by and you will have to go to a Persian store to get it.
Saffron, on the other hand is becoming more and more available. Though pricey, a little of this spice goes a long, long way. Nothing can compare to the scent and taste of a saffron-spiced dish. The added color adds so much depth to the visual display that whets the appetite even more. If interested, the recipe for this comes from the book “New Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies” by Najmieh Batmanglij. A word of warning, the process of making the rice is very involved but with practice, it will become easier. The deviation I had from the recipe was in the making of the chicken. I salted the chicken early. I also find that organic chicken that weighs less than 4 lbs has the most flavor and succulent meat. I use ¾ teaspoon of salt per pound of chicken. It is best to use sea salt . There is no need to salt inside the cavity but pay attention to the thigh legs and salt less around the wings, otherwise salt the other parts evenly; keep refrigerated overnight. Some books advocate salting at the last minute to avoid drying out the chicken. But I found that if I leave the salt on overnight I end up with very tender juicy meat. What happens is that salt initially draws the moisture out, but after a longer period infuses the protein back with moisture in reverse osmosis. So what you have is flavor all the way to the bone. The rest of the recipe is very easy. Stuff the chicken with an onion and two cloves of garlic, pepper and coat with 2 teaspoons of saffron water (the saffron can be crushed and steeped in hot water). Cover and put in oven for 1 ½ hours to two hours at 350 °F. What I did though is I uncovered it at 1 ½ hour mark and raised the temperature to 400 °F for the final 30 minutes. You cannot believe how the meat was falling off the bone on this chicken.
Will I prepare this elaborate dish again? Definitely.
Update : 11-11-2006
3 cups long grain basmati rice
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cups dried barberries cleaned, washed and drained
1 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 4 tbs hot water
4 tbs sugar
2/3 cup clarified butter
2 tbs. plain yogurt
Clean and wash 3 cups of rice 5 times in warm water
Clean the barberries and place the berries in a colander. Place the colander in a large container of cold water and allow barberries to soak for 20 minutes. The sand will settle to the bottom. Take the colander out of the container and run cold water over barberries; drain and set aside.
Saute the sliced onion in 2 tablespoons of butter, add the barberries and sauté for just 1 minute over low heat because barberries burn easily. Add 4 tablespoons of sugar, mix well and set aside.
Bring 8 cups water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil in a large, non-stick pot. Pour the washed and drained rice into the pot. Boil briskly for 6 to 10 minutes, gently stirring twice to loosen any grains that may have stuck to the bottom. Bite a few grains; if the rice feels soft, it is ready to be drained. Drain rice in a large fine-mesh colander and rinse in 2 or 3 cups lukewarm water.
In the same pot heat 4 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons water.
In a bowl, mix 2 spatulas of rice, the yogurt, and a few drops of saffron water and spread the mixture over the bottom of the pot to form a tender crust (tah-dig).
Place 2 spatulas full of rice in the pot, arranging the rice in the shape of a pyramid. This shape allows the rice to expand and enlarge. Cover and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat.
Mix the remaining melted butter and saffron water with ¼ cup of water and pour over the pyramid. Place a clean dish towel or paper towel over the pot; cover firmly with lid to prevent steam from escaping. Cook for 50 minutes longer over low heat.
Remove lid and take out 2 tablespoons of the saffron-flavored rice and set aside to use for garnish.
Then, gently taking 1 spatula full of rice at a time, place rice on a serving platter in alternating layers with the barberry mixture, Mound the rice in the shape of a cone. Arrange the chicken around the platter. Finally, decorate the top of the mound with saffron-flavored rice and some of the barberry mixture.